Who could have guessed Open Cinema would resort to showing a dirty movie to celebrate its 10th anniversary?Program director Mandy Leith isnt worried it will soil the community screening events reputation. In fact, shes all for it.Leith even persuaded Deborah Koons Garcia to let Open Cinema host the Canadian première of her new documentary about a subject that is, well, treated like dirt. Symphony of the Soil launches the non-profits season Oct. 3 at Victoria Event Centre.Garcia brings new meaning to the term muck-raking in a documentary that sounds about as exciting as watching paint dry but grows on you after an off-putting, albeit picturesque, opening in which a microbial ecologist waxes enthusiastic about soil.Its very exciting to be putting your hands into very old carbon that has accumulated here by photosynthesis, enthuses Dr. Ignacio Chapela, his eyes lighting up as he digs up a massive clump of ancient soil in Norway. Maybe for you, pal.Excuse the cynicism, but theres a reason. Its a testament to Garcias skills as a filmmaker, and how she so comprehensively explores the complexity of this precious resource we take for granted that youll soon find yourself captivated and edified.After seeing the film, I found myself taking a closer look at that giant compost pile in Esquimalts garden waste facility and the soil in our own garden. Symphony of the Soil has that effect as Garcia, effectively melding art and science, unearths fascinating scientific revelations, myths and historical data about this miraculous substance that our lives depend upon.Everything we are is made of soil, says Dr. Vandana Shiva, a physicist concerned about how were disrespecting it. If we have declared a war against soil itself then we are committing a species-level suicide.Shiva is one of many stakeholders including soil scientists, activists and farmers who demystify this complex living organism, celebrate soils mind-boggling potential when accorded the respect and protection it deserves, and caution us about the chilling environmental consequences of societys increased reliance on the multibillion-dollar pesticide industry.Some of the films most memorable input comes from Dr. Elaine Ingham, former president of Soil Foodweb Inc., as she reflects on the billions of micro-organisms that contribute to soil fertility. Says Ingham: Its Times Square on New Years Eve all the time in the soil. When you take that soil and you put it under a microscope and you start looking, its a place full of life.A recurring theme is common sense such as how the Law of Return should be implemented for sustainable growth.The best way to enhance and retain the living capacity of the soil and its capacity for self-renewal is to return to the soil all those things that we use that we get from the soil, says Dr. Fred Kirschenmann, a North Dakota scholar and biodynamic farmer.Symphony of the Soil persuasively espouses the obvious benefits of organic gardening and farming with creative composting, growth of cover crops to replenish nitrogen levels, and water conservation among key topics addressed as Garcia gathers anecdotal evidence from growers on four continents. She also incorporates historical tidbits, such as archival footage from the First World War to remind us how out of the chemistry of war and bombs came our first nitrogen fertilizer.One aspect that should resonate with foodies who value fresh, local produce is the impact fertile soil can have at mealtime.Just as a carrot is not a carrot is not a carrot, compost is not compost is not compost, says Dan Barber, chef at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agricultures Blue Hill restaurant in New York. He says quality compost can yield amazing flavours.Theres a recipe to [compost] that is as interesting and as profound and important as the recipes Im making in the kitchen.Other highlights include Garcias inventive use of animated watercolour drawings to illustrate biological wonders like photosynthesis; beautiful time-lapse photography of blooming mushrooms, a ripening strawberry and a rotting apple core; and gross-but-fascinating macro-imagery of a dung beetle improving soil structure by feeding on feces.Garcia, whose 2004 documentary The Future of Food was shown at Open Cinema, will be in attendance at the screening, the fourth in the Cinema In Season series in collaboration with with Foodroots and Vancity. Shell join Robin Tunnicliffe, co-author of All the Dirt, and Heidi Hermary, founder of Society of Organic Urban Landscape (SOUL) in a discussion moderated by Alan Dolan.The event also marks the start of a new initiative: Discussions will now be live-streamed. Anyone with a computer can access these online broadcasts and virtual chat features on Open Cinemas newly renovated website, and participate via Twitter.Its giving a digital spin to our using documentaries as a tool for community engagement, said Leith, laughing as she recalled a similar attempt made years ago when the documentary Webcam Girls was screened cafÃ©-style at Hermanns Jazz Club. Fans were invited in through chat rooms, with a keyboard passed through the audience so participants could type responses.Now that social media is here people can watch remotely and chat through Twitter. Its a new way of thinking.Symphony of the Soil screens Oct. 3, 7 p.m. (doors 5:30), at 1415 Broad St. Advance tickets, $15, available at opencinema.ca.
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